How to spot common tech support scams
Don’t be fooled by a scammer who calls you claiming to be from Microsoft or Apple.
Despite warnings that come year after year about tech support scams, fraudsters continually find new and more effective ways to trick consumers into giving up their personal and financial information.
Microsoft recently reported that tech support scams were up 24 percent between 2017 and 2018. The tech giant received 153,000 reports of customers encountering or falling for a fraud attempt, with 1 in 10 actually losing money from those scams. Microsoft customers paid an estimated $3 to $6 million to criminals — all because they didn’t know how to spot a hoax.
The typical tech support scam involves the fraudster calling or emailing a customer claiming to be from a legitimate technology company. The scammer says there’s something wrong with the customer’s computer, and uses a lot of tech jargon to confuse them. They then ask for passwords, remote desktop access, and even payment so they can “fix” the non-existent problem.
Savvy internet users know that no corporate tech support representative would ever contact them about a device issue unless the customer reported it first and asked for a call back. However, if you’re not particularly knowledgeable about technology, it can be very easy to be fooled by a convincing-sounding scam artist.
Here are a few steps to take if you suspect someone is trying to pull a tech support scam on you.
- Verify the source.
Because of the sophisticated technology fraudsters have access to, it’s very easy
for someone to create a convincing- looking scam email, or fake a caller ID to make it look like a phone number is coming from a specific area code or geographical region.
If you were actually expecting a call from a tech support agent, you can run a reverse phone search or look up the listed tech support number to see if it’s an exact match for the company that’s supposed to be contacting you.
If you receive an email or browser pop-up notice, carefully verify the logo, email sender address, signature, etc. The differences between a real and fake email or ad can be very subtle and easy to miss, so look at it with a very scrutinizing eye. More importantly, do not click on any links or call any phone number listed in suspicious emails and pop-ups.
- Never give a random caller your password or desktop access.
No matter how convincing the call, email or pop-up seems, you should never give out your account passwords or allow someone else to take control of your computer remotely.
If you’re having trouble with your computer, it’s best to bring the machine in to a tech repair shop or official device retail store, or have a tech support professional come to your home to look at it in person.
- Keep your browser, programs and security software up to date.
Don’t ignore those messages on your computer that remind you to update your software.
Software companies and device manufacturers are constantly working to patch security flaws and bugs, so failing to update at the advised time could leave your machine vulnerable to hackers. (Just make sure it’s a legitimate message from your own software provider; not a scammer.)
- Stay vigilant.
To avoid becoming the next victim of a tech support scam, it’s important to be vigilant about computer and Internet safety. Never respond to a message or phone call from someone claiming to need access to your PC if you didn’t previously report an issue.
If you are really having a tech support problem, contact your device manufacturer or a trusted tech support professional directly using the info listed on their website.
Most importantly, keep yourself educated and informed about the latest fraud tactics and the warning signs of any new scams. Arming yourself with this knowledge could save you from a sneaky data thief.
Justin Lavelle is the chief communications officer for BeenVerified.com, a source for online background checks and contact information. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.